News National Sydney-to-Melbourne train driver wrote about issues before derailment, email shows

Sydney-to-Melbourne train driver wrote about issues before derailment, email shows

The driver and pilot of the XPT train were killed when it derailed. Photo: ABC News/Simon Winter
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The driver killed in the Sydney-to-Melbourne train derailment last week had told a friend about safety concerns along the track in the month before the fatal crash, an email shows.

The XPT train was carrying 153 passengers when it derailed near Wallan, north of Melbourne, on Thursday night.

Train driver John Kennedy, 54, and a 49-year-old train pilot from Castlemaine died at the scene. Eleven passengers were injured.

In an email to his friend Clive Williams on February 3, Mr Kennedy detailed a list of recent issues on the North East line.

“My last six Melbourne return trips have been very late or cancelled mainly due to train fault issues, 3 of the six runs I was down to one engine, on another trip I had no speedo and the only trip without a train fault was disrupted by the big derailment last week,” he wrote.

John Kennedy wrote regular emails and texts about his time driving the XPT train, his friend said. Photo: ABC News/Clive Williams

The derailment he referred to in the email happened at Barnawartha, near the Victoria-New South Wales border, in late January.

Mr Williams, a military professor at the Australian National University and a member of the Canberra-Sydney Rail Action Group, told the ABC Mr Kennedy was fond of the ageing XPT train but issues made it difficult for him to do his job.

He said Mr Kennedy did not have safety concerns relating to the train itself, but was worried about the stretch of track between Albury and Melbourne.

“It was pretty rough track,” Mr Williams said.

“It was a lot of sideways, violent sideways movement on some sections.”

The XPT service is run by NSW TrainLink, part of Transport for NSW, on federal tracks managed by the Australian Rail Track Corporation [ARTC].

A Transport for NSW [TfNSW] spokesperson said if any member of the public had information related to the Wallan derailment, “the best action for them is to share that information with the ATSB and ONRSR [Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator]”.

“TfNSW will not enter into a running commentary or speculation on any matters related to this incident and are working in cooperation with the ATSB and ONRSR,” the spokesperson said.

“While we all wish to understand the cause, a thorough investigation is ongoing and we do not wish to make any further comment at this time.”

Victoria’s Rail, Train and Bus Union (RTBU) said there appeared to be a number of factors that contributed to the fatal derailment, but yesterday claimed it could have been prevented if the service had been running under Victorian, rather than national, rail regulations.

The ABC has been told the direction of rail tracks at the site of the derailment were changed on the day of the crash for the first time in weeks.

Friend remembers ‘well respected’ train driver

Mr Williams said he met Mr Kennedy in 2017 and the pair shared regular correspondence about trains in the years since.

“He’s a very decent sort of guy, well respected by the other rail workers, [the] crew obviously got on well together,” he said.

“I just think it’s a very sad thing that this happened and it didn’t need to happen. If our politicians had done something about our intercity train service long before now, this obviously wouldn’t’ve happened.”

He said he had ridden with Mr Kennedy on XPT trains, and said “you really had to hang onto your seat” on a trip to Melbourne in November.

Investigators finished their preliminary work at the site on Saturday. Photo: Jack Angliss/ Borne Visuals

The ARTC has been working with Transport for NSW to remove the train carriages and locomotives, in an operation that is expected to take three days.

Parts of the train will be examined in a specialist Sydney workshop today.

Buses are replacing trains along the North East line until further notice.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) will release a preliminary report within 30 days of the crash, but the full investigation could take months or even years to complete.